In today’s post we are focusing on houseplants that can tolerate that bright South-facing room in your space. Southern spaces are highly coveted when house-hunting, with rooms bathed in a balmy golden light for a good amount of the day in the Spring + Summer months. The light in these rooms can be strong, intense + hot which sounds lovely as I write this in Winter, but these conditions do require some careful consideration if you are building up a houseplant collection. The main advantage of a South-facing space is that of useable space for plant growing — South-facing rooms are more versatile + you can certainly ‘plant style’ your whole room rather than just cramming as many plants as possible close to or on those windowsills as can often be the case in more shaded locations!
After my post a few weeks ago about houseplants, lighting + room orientation, I’m now focusing on each of the different light exposures — North, East, South + West as we turn our attention back to the PLANTS! More specifically, which ones are going to be right at home in situ in each of these particular orientations. I started off with Plants for… North facing rooms which you can read here, followed by Let’s talk about light Part 2: Plants for… East facing rooms. I get regular questions about this so thought it would be helpful to have all the information clearly laid out + in one place here on the website + saved under the ‘a HPH guide to…’ tab on the houseplanthouse homepage.
Over the last few years, I’ve lived in a few different spaces — from a second floor apartment with old single-glazed sash windows, surrounded by trees (which really impacted how the light came in during the Summer months) to a little cottage with latticed, draughty windows. I’m currently semi-camping in my renovation project which is an old Chapel that I’m converting into the new houseplanthouse headquarters as my live/work space. This variety of homes has not only given me experience of the full range of room-orientations, but has really taught me how to understand the spaces in which my houseplants grow best.
If you’ve not seen the first blogpost for context, I’ll link it here: Let’s talk about light: a HPH guide to understanding houseplants, lighting + orientation — I had a lot of fun making those diagrams + thanks for the kind messages on them! In this preliminary post, it’s really important to remember the points 5 (obstructions + window treatments), 6 (seasons) + 7 (moving shock) in the wider context of the question of light, + also that I’m in the Northern hemisphere for reference!
South light attributes
Let’s start with a brief re-cap on the key points to note about southern exposures.
KEY ATTRIBUTES OF SOUTH LIGHT:
- The brightest, most intense aspect of daylight
- Great for cacti + succulents
- Plants might need shading in Summer months
South facing windows are very desirable in the houseplant world if you enjoy growing things like cacti or succulents, as these bright positions with direct light are the perfect spot that can really make your home feel that little bit more tropical. An old work colleague had a beautiful large aloe plant on her south facing work windowsill for many years (long-time readers might remember photos of it) that became a stand out feature of the whole office!
Saying that, it’s important to understand the need to protect plants during the summer months from a suntan, or potential damage, as this orientation is the most intense light of all. This is what you will know as ‘bright, indirect light to full sun’ + isn’t suitable for all houseplants, especially those with thinner foliage. Whilst growth in these locations can be considerable when light levels + temperatures are good, you’ll need to be mindful of the pitfalls of under watering and/or inadequate care + attention that can sometimes give rise to pest issues.
Coupled with large glass panes which can also intensify the sun’s heat, you’ll want to be checking plants that are in these positions + perhaps moving them further from the window during really sunny, hot periods. In my previous place, I used a sheer net to filter the light in my brightest windows which allowed me to keep plants around 0.5metres away with no problems. I’ve talked more about window treatments in the main blogpost (linked here).
Plants for South facing rooms
1. Bird of Paradise: Strelitzia nicolai/reginae
Starting things off with one of my favourites, a beautiful Bird of Paradise is quite a majestic plant to grow as a houseplant + can really transform a south-facing room into a tropical oasis. The leaves are pretty sculptural in their own right but given the right conditions, the flowers that bloom when the plant is mature enough are spectacular! The key to a happy Strelitzia is LIGHT and lots of it, so if you are looking for a statement plant that can grow with you for many years a Bird of Paradise is a great choice for a South-facing space. It’s worth knowing that the larger ‘giant’ Strelitzia is the nicolai, which can grow to a number of metres in height. Even if you don’t have oodles of space, I always enjoy a Strelitzia reginae (see mine above) which is perhaps better suited to a smaller home. Here are some lovely specimens from my Barbican Conservatory blogpost —
2. + 3. String of Pearls/ String of Bananas
Senecio/Curio rowleyanus: otherwise known as String of Pearls, or String of Beads is a perpetually popular plant for its unusual looks + trailing growth habit. Caring for String of Pearls can feel like quite a learning curve if you are new to houseplants, particularly succulents. As with all plants, the main issues are light + watering… this plant needs lots of the former + (relatively) little of the latter. So you might imagine that the main reasons these plants don’t survive is from overwatering + lack of light! I water mine once every 2-3 weeks-ish in the growing season and lightly once a month during winter + my plant lives in the brightest location I can provide for it, which I filter with a net in high summer.
A brief note on the naming here, in the UK at least, string of beads is more commonly used to refer to the closely related ‘string of bananas’; Senecio herreianus. This has a slightly elongated oval, almost teardrop shape as opposed to these almost perfectly spherical pearls. A few years ago, we received these on a delivery instead of a string of pearls by accident and let me just say, they were nowhere near as popular as their rounded relative! BUT, if you like growing these types of plants you might fancy a bit of variety. I’ve got a post here if you want to read more about String of Pearls. Here’s a comparison photo that shows Pearls on the left + Bananas on the right:
4. String of hearts: Ceropegia woodii
Ceropegia woodii is a beautiful hanging succulent plant that is also known as a rosary vine or chain of hearts, often seen tumbling off the bookshelves of Instagram. My String of Hearts plants really are a key part of my plant collection here at House Plant House + I grow two ‘regular’ SOH + a variegated plant too. In a bright location the variegated String of Hearts is a great choice + if the light intensity is strong enough will develop a pretty pink hue. A South facing room, whether that’s true South, South-east or South-west, is a great place to grow these lovely plants — I’ve been growing my SOH plants for a few years now + in terms of positioning, I really do think I’ve found the perfect position for mine this year. I have been growing my three plants one metre away from a South-East facing window behind a net. That means it gets a few intense hours of afternoon sunshine, but not so much so that it scorches the leaves. If the light is too intense, the hearts can start to crisp up. A South West position was where I grew it in my old apartment which also worked similarly. I’ve put together a Growing String of Hearts blogpost here.
With good light levels, a mature plant can bloom regularly — see here for more on that.
5. Desert Cacti
If you are blessed with south-facing windowsills then desert cacti can really come into their own in this spot. By this I mean the types of cacti that enjoy hot, arid conditions (and I’ve addressed this in previous posts) — unless you have a south facing room to grow desert cacti it would be wiser to opt for jungle cacti instead which still grow successfully in a typical home environment + are much more forgiving too. My Opuntia gang + Cereus forbesii spiralis can really only grow well in a south-facing position — even last year in the South-east rooms in the cottage, my Spiral cactus started to stretch out + just looked sad really. Also, remember that whilst Euphorbia look pretty cactus-like, they are part of the succulent family + actually prefer a slightly less direct/intense light (but again, back to that in the next post). Desert cacti are chilled-out plants that need very little water between October + March too, so make for easy ownership + are a great choice for forgetful plant-waterers!
If you enjoy some plant growing experimentation like I do, you could also give growing cacti from seed a try. Perfect if you want to practice patience (granted, it takes ages) plus it’s really enjoyable — seedlings hardly take up any room if you are short on space. Here are some of my Echinocactus grusonii / Golden Barrel seeds that are into their third year now + actually looking like proper little plants!
6. Sago Palm: Cycas Revoluta
A Sago Palm is the most beautiful, unusual table top plant for a sunny space — they aren’t always the easiest to find here in the UK + despite their name they aren’t actually a true palm but a Cycad. Yes, they are slow growing but they are very easy going to keep as houseplants in a sunny room + would enjoy a position that’s out of the direct South-facing glare, perhaps 1-2 metres from the windowsill, depending on your geographic location + light intensity, window treatments etc. Due to their more diminutive scale, they are a great choice for a smaller home, displayed on a console or side table. During the Spring/Summer months I’ve previously grown my plant outdoors on my balcony garden, bringing it inside during the colder months. If these are the kind of leafy, jungle-style plants you enjoy then I’d recommend one of these for sure.
7. Beaucarnea recurvata (Ponytail palm)
Another eccentric plant pick next for a south-facing room which will certainly bring a lot of character to a bright corner — the Beaucarea recurvata, or Ponytail palm. Juvenile plants can look quite dracaena-like on first glance + their strap-like ribbon leaves tend to splay out a bit like a water fountain as the plant grows! It’s a cheerful plant to have around + here’s a photo of my little one below left, in the pot that’s to the right of the display. I regret not picking up a large one I came across a few years ago at a good price as they can be more on the expensive side! They are slow growing but with a good care routine, will be a plant that can stay in your collection from many decades. For reference, here’s a mature specimen at the Barbican which shows its swollen bulblike base + trunk that is characteristic of older plants that really make this plant stand out, below right:
8. Yucca elephantipes
A Yucca is a plant that can truly thrive in a south-facing location + like the ponytail above, it’s one of those that can grow with you for years to come… plus they are a bit of a houseplant classic in my opinion. Much less fussy than palms, their scale can create impact in a room with minimal effort — just be careful with their positioning as their foliage can be spiky! I’ve grown this one for years from a small plant + it sits in the sunniest position I can provide for it. They are easy going to grow — pretty slow but steady + generally only need repotting once every 12-18 months. More mature plants require a heavy based pot to keep them stable, I like to grow mine in a deep terracotta pot with a drip tray for a classic planting style in my home.
9. Succulents: a general note
Stepping back from the windowsill a little — say, 0.5-1 metre + we reach a pretty favourable position for many succulents that don’t always tolerate direct sun well. Here I’m talking about your Aloes, Euphorbia trigonas, Hawortias, Echeveria etc. These succulents can enjoy a windowsill in this location but in Summer months, will likely scorch if not acclimatised or protected so I generally try to position my plants like this adjacent to a window for longer-term happiness. For succulents to really maintain their compact growth, a bright south-facing room, close to a window is quite a sweet spot for these colourful houseplants. Of course, there are loads to choose from + I know I’ve also mentioned some specific plants already in this post, but here I wanted to give an honourable mention to my Kalanchoe orgyalis ‘copper spoons’ — below right, which is a favourite of mine. Furthermore, succulent propagation is a fun activity in this area which has a good balance of light intensity + warmth that can really help your leaf propagations along (below left).
10. Kalanchoe blossfeldiana
If you like a flowering houseplant, the humble Kalanchoe blossfeldiana is an option for a South-room which can help the plant to stay compact + throw out lots of pretty, colourful blooms! They are one of those plants that are traditionally given as gifts around Christmas time as a Poinsettia alternative + with good care + pruning can be a plant that lasts for many years. My mum has grown her plant into a sort of bonsai form (below right) which I actually love + it looks really cheerful on her bright windowsill. This Kalanchoe is an easy going one to look after + doesn’t need frequent watering — it prefers a thorough soak through before being allowed to start to dry out before it’s next drink. A South-facing window suits this plant well over Autumn + Winter, but in the height of summer you might need to give your plant some shelter with a net, or by moving it further away from the window if the light is very intense — watch out for the scalloped succulent leaves blushing red as a sign the plant would prefer a more softly-lit location. I’ve not had any problems growing mine in a south-west windowsill for a few years though.
11. Jade plant: Crassula ovata
The Jade plant is perhaps most commonly known as a money tree or a lucky plant + is one that I love to grow! I have this undulata variety (below) which I’ve grown from a really small plant + a few ‘regular’ crassula ovata plants dotted around the place that I’ve propagated. There’s also a lovely variety I always like to look out for when I’m at the nursery — crassula ovata ‘sunset’ which is below right. These plants have grown the best for me in both my south-west and south-east facing windows in my previous homes which is a great option if you can provide that too.
12. Fresh herbs and fruit trees
For my last pick I wanted to mention some options that might not have immediately come to mind as an indoor plant grower, but in a sunny, south-facing room it’s quite possible to grow dwarf fruit trees with the correct care! I’ve always loved the idea of a windowsill kitchen garden + fruit trees are always a favourite with my customers — particularly Meyer lemons + Calamondin oranges. If you do have suitable outside space, you can acclimatise these to live outdoors during the warmer part of the year too. Culinary enthusiasts should also consider a little windowsill herb corner — a southern exposure is the perfect growing spot for basil plants, which have a beautiful aroma + the added benefit of acting as a fly-repellant… they hate the smell! I use herbs a lot + always have a few plants for cooking dotted about on my south windowsill in the new place.
I hope you enjoyed today’s instalment of this series + that it’s offered some guidance for potential plants to consider for a south-facing room.
Some final points to take away — in these bright, warm spaces it’s important to not forget about airflow — fresh air circulation around plants is important everywhere but especially so in southern exposures. Bear in mind that anything particularly close to a window might need extra attention during seasonal shifts and protection from intense Summer rays/cold Winter nights. Houseplants can acclimatise to a brighter position over time, but often just a step back from a south window can be enough to prevent scorching or drying out; plants in these parts will require considerably more frequent watering also. A humidity/temperature monitor is a piece of kit I’d recommend adding to your plant care arsenal, especially in these conditions, alongside a hygrometer. I’ve actually got a post on my picks for my top 10 picks for a houseplant starter kit if you want to have a look (it might also offer some for some inspiration for planty gifting ideas too). Any place very hot and dry with lower humidities can result in pest pressures so it’s important to check your plants in a south window frequently. The huge advantage of growing houseplants in this room though is that much of the space will be suitable for plants — unlike some of the other, more softly-lit exposures like North- or East- which generally require plants to be closer to the light source in order to grow well.
In the last edition of this ensemble of posts on light, we’ll be heading to my favourite type of exposure — western light! I’ll link the preliminary post if you would like to familiarise yourself with the different light exposures and what these can mean for our houseplants here. Please feel free to share with someone who might enjoy this blogpost, or save to refer back to.
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